Monkeypox vaccines not yet offered in northwestern Ontario

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
enguyen@fortfrances.com

New Brunswick recently reported the province’s first confirmed case of monkeypox, making a total of seven provinces and territories that have been exposed to the virus.

As of August 12, Ontario reports the highest of the seven affected provinces with a total count of 511 confirmed cases, followed by Quebec with 426, and British Columbia at 98.

A statement was released that day reporting that among cases for whom additional information was available, over 99 per cent were male, and the median age was 35 years.

“It is important to stress that anyone — regardless of their sex, gender, race, or sexual orientation — can become infected with or spread the virus,” stated Canada’s chief public health officer. “We are urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox, and to learn how to reduce the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus to others.”

The public statement released on August 12 reported that the Government of Canada has deployed over 99,000 doses of Imvamune vaccine to provinces and territories, with more than 50,000 people vaccinated as of August 11.

At the moment, no monkeypox vaccine clinics are available for communities in northwest regions of Ontario.

Jason Maclennan, communications director of North Bay Pride, recently criticized public health units in northern Ontario for being “reactive instead of proactive.” He urgently asks for federal and provincial education campaigns addressing misinformation about monkeypox, and for vaccines distributed to all communities.

“In talks with many public health units in Northern Ontario, we understand they have been told that they need to wait until they have a case of monkeypox before vaccines will be sent to northern communities,” wrote Maclennan in a letter to the editor. “Why? Why would we want to be reactive instead of proactive? Why would we subject the healthcare system to be further burden with monkeypox?”

“In the 1980s, with AIDS, the governments took the same response which resulted in millions of deaths around the world,” Maclennan continued. “And you would think that we would have learned our lesson wouldn’t you? Did COVID not teach us anything? Reactive to this does NOT work. Is this because it is currently appearing in ‘gay’ men?”

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit, stated in a media briefing earlier this month that there is only a small amount of vaccines sent to northwestern Ontario, but that the decision to distribute vaccines disproportionately actually benefits all people because focusing the vaccine supply on regions more heavily impacted will help control the virus from spreading to neighbouring regions.

“There’s a limit on the amount of vaccine that’s available because the number of cases are much higher in southern Ontario,” said Young Hoon. “It is important to strategically use a limited supply of vaccines to areas where there is greater risk.”

Dr. Young Hoon said that staff have been trained to do case and contact management, a tool which she said is particularly helpful for the less infectious monkeypox virus. Public health authorities may conduct regular communication to monitor individuals who display symptoms or who have been in contact with monkeypox, advising on isolation measures, and identifying individuals or groups who were potentially exposed to the virus.

“I think we’re as prepared as we should be at this point,” said Young Hoon earlier this month. “And then, of course, as things change, the activities will have to change.”

Since the recent announcement of a confirmed case of monkeypox in New Brunswick, northwestern public health officials have not provided updates on changes to the region.

For more updated about the monkeypox virus, visit the links below:

  • Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/monkeypox.html
  • Public Health Ontario: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/Diseases-and-Conditions/Infectious-Diseases/Vector-Borne-Zoonotic-Diseases/Monkeypox
  • Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance: https://gmsh.ca/monkeypox/